This Mind Trick Will Actually Make You Better At — and More Satisfied With — Your Job

By Liz Shivvers

How do you think about your job? Is it your passion, your calling, or simply a way to pay the bills? Does your work challenge and energize you, or are you counting the days (or decades) until you retire?

Most of us assume that job satisfaction depends on factors that are often outside of our control: how many hours we have to work, the projects we get assigned to, our salary or our commute. But a slew of recent psychology studies show that career fulfillment is more in our head — and our control — than we realize.

The Art and Science of Job Crafting

It’s rare to you find yourself in a job that’s perfectly designed to match your unique talents and personal aspirations to a T. And if a tough economy or competitive job market is leaving you feeling trapped, how do you make the most of a job that may not be ideal? Job craft it.

Job crafting is a new mental strategy that’s been found to help boost career satisfaction and performance, without the need to secure that promotion or find a new job. It’s the act of identifying and taking on small but meaningful new tasks that make you feel more empowered and influential around the office. This doesn’t mean you ditch your current duties, of course, it’s just something that helps you reimagine the purpose of your work in a way that will benefit you, your company, and your customers.

Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, psychologist and professor at Yale and one of the researchers who coined the term job crafting, developed the concept after she worked on a series of studies looking at the attitudes and job satisfaction of hospital custodians. Workers were split into two groups: the first simply followed the given job description, and the second was asked to take on related tasks of their own choosing.

The results were significant: participants in the second group talked about their job in completely different terms than the first. Rather than listing out the basic custodial tasks they performed and the pay they received, the second group spoke about the relationships they developed with patients and the skill and attention the job required. In short, the second group saw themselves more as caretakers than custodians, perceived their work as deeply meaningful, and defined their role in a strikingly different way from that of their peers.

Wrzesniewski’s research shows that job crafting can foster engagement, job satisfaction, and performance across all professions and levels, whether you’re a VP of Sales or an entry-level customer service rep. It’s not about changing your job, many aspects of which might be beyond your control. It’s about changing how you approach and think about your job.

Want to job craft your role? Start by assessing and then adjusting one or more of the below:

Tasks

Think about how you can change the boundaries of your job by:

  • Taking on more or fewer tasks
  • Expanding or diminishing the scope of your tasks
  • Changing how you perform your tasks

Example: If you’re an engineer who loves to write and share insights, how about writing for your company’s blog? You’ll get to flex your creative muscles and get credit for your heretofore unrecognized communication skills.

Relationships

Think about how you can change your interactions with colleagues by:

  • Increasing or decreasing the number or type of meetings you attend
  • Connecting with people in a new way: host lunch-and-learns or participate a work volunteer group

Example: If you’re an experienced sales rep who works remotely, you could volunteer to mentor entry-level sales associates. You’ll get the chance to interact more with your coworkers, share lessons learned, and hone your management and coaching skills.

Perceptions

Think about how you can change what you see as the purpose of your job by:

  • Rethinking the goal behind specific job functions and responsibilities
  • Reframing how you define the value of your job as a whole

Example: If you’re a realtor working in a competitive housing market, you might re-envision your role as that of a relationship-builder/family counselor. Your job is more than just property transactions — you help families navigate the complex and often emotional process of buying and selling their homes.

Our mental perceptions shape our work lives more than we realize, for the better or worse. So go ahead, what are you waiting for? Take the reigns and job-craft the job you have into the job you want.

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